Transformations of Social Bonds

The Outline of the Theory of Social Change

by Mirosława Marody (Author) Anna Giza-Poleszczuk (Author)
©2018 Monographs 364 Pages
Open Access


We live in times of accelerated changes – social, economic, and political – which are currently transforming most societies and areas of human life. Every day brings not only new shifts in political orders of various countries but also clearly observable metamorphoses of labour patterns, family forms, and modes through which we participate in political life, communicate, and which are related to each other. The pace of these changes and their complex mechanisms make it difficult to discern what directions they are actually taking.
This book is about transformations of social bonds, the most fundamental sociological concept. It examines how these bonds are formed, how they are dissolved, and how they are forged anew. The book offers a preliminary reflection on the course and consequences of the ongoing transformations of the social order. At the same time, it invites to reconsider the foundations of sociological thinking.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Preface to the English Edition
  • Contents
  • Introduction
  • Chapter One. What is Society?
  • 1.1 Classical views on the question of society
  • 1.2 Society as an object of enquiry in twentieth-century sociology
  • 1.3 Society as a theoretical concept
  • Chapter Two. Mechanisms of Socializing Processes
  • 2.1 Sociality in the perspective of anthropo- and sociogenesis
  • 2.2 Social foundations of the human mind
  • 2.3 Two dimensions of socializing processes
  • Chapter Three. Transformations of Social Bonds
  • 3.1 The nature of social bond
  • 3.2 Culture as a “toolkit”
  • 3.2.1 Language
  • 3.2.2 Tools
  • 3.2.3 Habits
  • 3.2.4 Factors determining the transformations of culture
  • 3.3 Transformations of social bonds
  • Chapter Four. Society as a Process
  • 4.1 Levels of analysis
  • 4.2 Dynamics of social life
  • 4.3 Analyzing processes of historical changes
  • Chapter Five. Transformations of The Family
  • 5.1 The universe of the concept of family
  • 5.2 Processes of reproduction
  • 5.2.1 Family constellations: societies without history
  • 5.2.2 Lineage, race, and house – constellations of the “traditional” family
  • 5.2.3 “Family” as a vehicle for the reproduction of social structure: the dominance of the logic of market and state
  • 5.3 Flourishing of industrial society and criticism of bourgeois family
  • 5.4 Postmodern family
  • 5.5 Crisis of the family as crisis of society
  • Chapter Six. Transformations of Labor
  • 6.1 Labor as an element of being in the world – hunter-gatherer societies
  • 6.2 Labor as a task – traditional societies
  • 6.3 Denaturalization of labor – modern society
  • 6.4 Dematerialization of labor in contemporary society
  • Chapter Seven. Transformations of the Public Sphere
  • 7.1 Semantic aspects of the public/private opposition
  • 7.2 The concept of the public sphere
  • 7.3 From tribal to political community – traditional societies
  • 7.4 The public sphere in the modern society
  • 7.5 Contemporary transformations of the public sphere
  • Chapter Eight. Mechanisms o Great Transformations
  • 8.1 Dynamics of change
  • 8.2 Transformations of the processes of socializing human actions
  • Chapter Nine. Towards the Postmodern Society
  • 9.1 From a society of local communities to a discreet society
  • 9.2 What comes after modernity?
  • References
  • Index of Names


This book is about social change. This should not surprise anybody since we do, after all, live in a time of accelerated transformations, a topic addressed in some way or another by most sociological studies published these days. This book also focuses on contemporary social processes, raising the question whether we are dealing with a merely “quantitative” intensification of changes, or with some kind of a “qualitative” shift in the forms that organize human behavior – a shift that has been tentatively called the transition from modern to postmodern society.

It is quite astonishing that today’s sociology avoids providing an unambiguous answer to this question, or even shies away from positing it. Instead, it limits itself to exploring particular regularities or processes that can be found in social life today. One could even have the impression that sociologists have focused on developing a kind of “sociography” which is able to document the emergence of new phenomena but which remains helpless when it comes to explaining them. These phenomena are usually considered to be either an effect of behavioral trends, which have always been present in modernity and became merely accelerated or intensified by technological progress (such as individualization, rationalization or consumerism), or a consequence of some modifications in the structures of modern society (such as civic society, social trust or democratic systems). In both cases, however, concepts employed in sociological accounts are not framed by a more general theory of social change.

Such an attitude appears all the more astounding when we remember that sociology was founded as an intellectual response to the changes caused by the “transition to modernity.” The basic set of concepts developed by the classics of sociology, which determined its status as a separate discipline, was supposed to detect these changes and provide their theoretical explanation, not a mere description. It was supported by the conviction that modern society was born through the emergence and subsequent dissemination of radically novel patterns of social action – “illegitimate” ones, in Weber’s phrasing – and not through the maturation or development of trends that have originated in the preceding form of traditional society.

The classics of sociology – like Durkheim, Simmel, Tönnies or Weber – would assume that if there is no identifiable consequential logic, which governs the transformations, the only way to understand the relation between various forms of social organization is to grasp the mechanism or mechanisms that generate and reproduce these forms in the historical process. It was the search for such ←11 | 12→ universal mechanisms – operating in diverse contexts and interacting with various factors, ultimately giving rise to different forms of social order – that was meant to constitute the fundamental task of sociology. Each of the abovementioned authors attempted to indicate certain general factors responsible for producing and then sustaining coordination of human actions, assuming the “transition to modernity” to be a historical event – neither the fulfillment of some historical necessity, nor another stage in the development of humanity. Furthermore, each of these authors emphasized that this transition involved a radical shift in the relative importance of factors that integrate human actions, rather than a substitution of one group of factors for another. In other words, the founding force of sociology was the effort to create a general theory of such mechanisms of coordination and integration human actions – after all, these mechanisms constitute the essence of what we call “society” – that have underlain all historical manifestations of sociality.

Thus, when we started our own analysis of social change, it seemed sufficient to revisit classic (albeit nearly forgotten) sociological concepts – such as social bond, sociality, or social action – and employ them so as to order the rapidly expanding mass of descriptions of contemporary society. We thought it would suffice to answer the above question whether we are witnessing the emergence of a new form of social order or merely evolution of modernity’s characteristic features. However, it soon turned out that such an approach would be difficult, or even dangerously fallible, for at least several reasons.

First of all, having firmly established themselves in sociological discourse – including its didactic, theoretical, and research-oriented subtypes – all those classic concepts became trivialized and clichéd, losing their original meanings. In our view, they are no longer an integral part of the discipline’s paradigm but rather an assembly of stereotypes in sociological thinking. Not only do they fail to generate new hypotheses, ideas or experiments but also bring sociology to a standstill, inducing intellectual stagnation. To put it differently, we have developed a habit of reacting to the sound of certain words without taking into consideration their meaning. Indeed, it was already Locke who argued that “society influences the individual.” But what did he mean by that? What kinds of mechanisms of influence did he have in mind? How did he understand society? And most importantly, what does it mean today that “society influences the individual”?

Second, as a result of the above, certain classic formulas which seem indispensable to sociology’s theoretical discourse have acquired the ability to “lull” their potential recipients. It is sufficient to use the concept of “anomie” to make readers believe that they already know what the text is about and therefore can ←12 | 13→ skim through it without paying attention to the actual argumentation. In this situation, attempts to formulate new theses on the basis of such concepts frequently fail because of the tendency to follow the beaten track, fall back on readily available schemas, and pretend not to notice any incongruities. While working on this book, we have often caught ourselves resorting to ready-made formulas which otherwise may be right but which also invariably occlude the nature of the discussed issue. Struggling with the worn-out language of sociology proved to be probably the greatest difficulty in completing this book.

Third, most key ideas and expressions developed within classic sociology have been layered with so many interpretations that it sometimes becomes impossible to establish their original meaning. What is more, a large portion of these explications has a clearly “classificatory” character. Durkheim, for instance, has earned the label of “positivist” and “naturalist,” whereas many new readings of classic works focus on proving that, for example, Weber is not only the father of interpretive sociology but also of the rational choice theory. Regardless of the fact that nobody knows to what extent such findings might help us understand what these authors wanted to say, this kind of analysis turns their works into dusty old scrapbooks, full of quotations used to support arguments that often have little in common with the problems they actually explored.

Finally, and fourth, classics of sociology worked at a specific time in history. This also regards a specific state of knowledge in other scientific disciplines, which they used as a point of reference or source of inspiration. Durkheim’s works were indebted to the achievements in anthropology of that time, while Weber relied heavily on findings not only in history and economy, but also logic, since – as he explains in a footnote – he would use the concept of value in the sense given to this term by “contemporary logic.” Do we really know what sense was that, or are we rather using Weber’s concept in accordance with our own, intuitive and blurred understanding of values? Of course, the development of particular sciences during the time that separates us from Durkheim or Weber can mean that most of their claims have ceased to hold ground. However, it can mean something else, namely that the current state of knowledge could help these theoreticians to substantiate and express their theses better. For example, William James would be probably enthusiastic about Joseph LeDoux’s The Emotional Brain, while Durkheim and Mead could find it very useful to study the latest findings in neurophysiology, which demonstrate that their theses about the integrating role of ritual and “taking the attitude of the other” have a strictly “physical” basis since the human brain shows signs of imitating other people’s actions and emotions while observing them.

An awareness of these conditions and pitfalls has decidedly shaped this book. Its main goal is to explore social change in terms of dominant forms of “socializing processes,” i.e. processes that generate relatively stable patterns of coordination of individual actions. We explore a certain theoretical model of such processes, presenting mechanisms that fundamentally impact their course and pointing to key historical and contextual conditions in which these mechanisms lead to the emergence of different forms of “sociality” that organize social life. Such a delimitation of the scope of inquiry rests upon the assumption that the history of human societies is discontinuous and aimless, while changes that occur within it have a unique and abrupt character. We also assume that historically distinguishable forms of sociality constitute merely models or abstractions from the incessant stream of activities, just like language (langue) is only an abstraction from the stream of speech (parole).

Adopting the socializing processes as a key notion we return to the roots of the sociological thinking developed by the discipline’s classics for whom the basic question was how individuals come to coordinate their actions into forms that are, in return, perceived as “social” i.e. external and obligatory. Quoting extensively from their works we wish not so much to support our claims with their authority as to enter a dialogue with those of their findings that are directly connected with our own concerns, and thus recall and refresh them, placing their meaning in new light. At the same time, we wish to strongly emphasize that we neither attempt to develop “the only correct” interpretation of classical sociology, nor wish to assess its findings in terms of truthfulness and falsehood. Our primary goal is to expand on certain theoretical ideas present in them – ones that, to our astonishment, seem more suitable for explaining today’s changes than many of the currently developed theories.

When relating the classic findings to the current state of knowledge in other disciplines (primarily those that are crucial for better understanding of basic sociological concepts and models built on top of them) we have tried to implement an important methodological principle that recurs, in different forms, throughout works by almost all authors considered to be the classics of sociology. This principle holds that sociology is, by its very nature, an interdisciplinary science. Thus, in breaking away from history, anthropology, neurophysiology, evolutionary biology, and psychology, it condemns itself to a futile juggling of empty concepts.

The main problem of contemporary sociology is how to grasp the social. Under conditions of intensified change that destroys the hitherto existing social structures, sociology turns from analyzes of social systems, institutions and structural determinants of human actions towards analyzes that focus on individual ←14 | 15→ behavior, nature of interactions, and culturally established meanings. As we argue in the first chapter, such a mode of thinking results in an increasing “individualization” of the discipline and de-theorization of its basic concept, which is that of society. A return to some of the original ideas developed by classics of sociology allows to see that both the notions of individual and society were conceptualized by them merely as abstractions from social processes. The meaning and consequences of this statement are examined in three subsequent chapters (24), where we also offer our own perspective on socializing mechanisms, i.e. mechanisms that turn individual behavior into streams of coordinated collective actions. This allows us to develop a view of society different than the one currently prevailing in sociology. It ceases to appear as the epiphenomenon of state, politics, economy or culture, and becomes instead an abstract form encapsulated in coordinated actions, thus acquiring the status of a sui generis reality, just like Durkheim wanted.

Three further chapters (57) provide an empirical illustration to this model by adapting it to analyzes of socializing processes occurring in three different areas of social reality: family, labor, and the public sphere. Without attempting to summarize those processes, we just wanted to show how the concept of socializing processes can help to problematize anew analyzes made in these areas. This survey of historical changes in family, labor, and the public sphere also provides an empirical basis – one necessarily limited and fragmentary – for more general theses formulated in the last two chapters. They relate changes in three key contextual factors – population, environment, and collective representations, which provide the “environment” in which socializing processes can find expression – to changes in basic forms of sociality which remain central to the organization of social life.

Readers should be warned right away that this book does not do justice to contemporary sociology by emphasizing that there are also innovative and inspiring works in this discipline. For our intention was rather to focus on what sociologists – including ourselves – consider to be obvious, i.e. what forms a kind of “collective representation” of our scholarly environment. Producing such “representations” is unavoidable in the era of high specialization marked by a deluge of works offering analyzes of narrow aspects of social life. We argue, however, that once in a while they ought to be reflected upon in order to “deconstruct” the hidden assumptions which inform our discipline.

We do not regard this book to be a finished work but rather an introductory outline of an approach to the study of the social. Therefore, we are aware that more astute readers may find it to contain various shortcomings, and that some of our ideas may undergo vital modifications in the future. The present study ←15 | 16→ does not claim to be a “revelation of truth” but rather an invitation to participate in a debate that contemporary sociology seems to need today more than any time in the past.

The importance of such a debate dawned on us as we were working on this book. We began with certain reflections that each of us had collected in the course of individual reading, researching and teaching. Looking back from the perspective of a completed book, reflecting on the concepts and findings it contains, we are fully aware that neither of us could write it on her own. It would not be an exaggeration to say that – with the exception of the fifth chapter, largely based on Anna Giza’s work published after this book – this study does not contain even a single idea that, after being introduced by one of us as a topic for consideration, would escape being reworked, enriched and refined in the course of numerous discussions and debates with the other. In this sense, the book constitutes the intellectual property of both authors. The order of names on the title page does not reflect any imbalance in their actual input, but rather documents the fact that one of them took the pain to edit the book and give final form to joint reflections and various passages written at different stages in the book’s development.

While working on this book, we enjoyed financial support from the State Committee for Scientific Research (KBN) as part of a research project (H02E 026 21), which also involved doctoral students Tomasz Płachecki, Maria Rogaczewska and Alina Stanaszek, who prepared partial reports and helped in technical matters related to preparing the manuscript for printing. We wish to express our sincere gratitude to them.

Further acknowledgments are due to some of our colleagues – primarily Prof. Marian Kempny and Prof. Jacek Kochanowicz – who read the early draft and whose remarks made it possible to avoid rash generalizations in many places. We are further obliged to Dr Dominik Batorski, Dr Sławomir Mandes, Prof. Zbigniew Mikołejko, Dr Jan Poleszczuk, and Prof. Marek Zirk-Sadowski, whom we kept bothering with various specialist questions. Naturally, we bear full responsibility for all the passages the reader may deem too controversial.


What we are witnessing at the moment is that a certain model has become worn out, while former ways of understanding the world have faded.


If, as is granted to us, this synthesis sui generis, which constitutes every society, gives rise to new phenomena, different from those which occur in consciousnesses in isolation, one is forced to admit that these specific facts reside in the society itself that produces them and not in its parts – namely its members.

ÉMILE DURKHEIM, The Rules of Sociological Method

Norbert Elias begins one of his works by observing that “[e]‌veryone knows what is meant when the word ‘society’ is used, or at least, everyone thinks he knows.” “One person,” Elias continues, “passes the word on to another like a coin whose value is known and whose content no longer needs to be tested. If one person says ‘society’ and another hears it, they understand each other without difficulty. But do we really understand each other? […] What kind of formation is it, this ‘society’ that we form together, which has not been intended or planned by any of us, or even all of us together? It only exists because a large number of people exist, it only continues to function because many individual people want and do certain things, yet its structure, its great historical transformations, clearly do not depend on the intentions of particular people” (2001, 3).

Although Elias posed this question as early as 1939, it remains hard to answer in any binding way. Indeed, the term “society” has entered common usage. Weekly magazines often contain sections under this heading and it appears that using this word has become a natural reflex in public discourse. We have grown accustomed to believe that “society” refers to the entirety of the population in a given country. Moreover, we expect this entity to have certain features, even if we, who belong to it, do not find them within ourselves. Finally, we consider it obvious that “society” goes through certain changes, even though attempts to define the direction and nature of its transformations may spark controversy. We no longer ponder what society is, restricting our efforts to asking what its chief characteristics are.

Attempts to describe “society” are also usually associated with providing quantitative data, i.e. quoting indicators and distribution of answers in polls conducted invariably on “representative samples” reflecting a given society’s composition with regard to basic categories such as sex, age, education, region etc. The most widely applied categories used to segment “society” have statistical, usually a priori origins. It is assumed that people who answer a set of questions in a similar way comprise somewhat coherent social groupings or even “electorates,” while a slight differentiation of answers stemming from age or sex differences is treated as a basis for speaking about “men” or “senior citizens” as if they really constituted a group in the sociological sense, or at least a distinguishable whole of some kind.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Open Access
Publication date
2018 (December)
Sociology Social History Social Transformations Modern and Postmodern Society Social Psychology
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 363 pp., 8 fig. b/w, 2 tables

Biographical notes

Mirosława Marody (Author) Anna Giza-Poleszczuk (Author)

Mirosława Marody is a Professor of sociology and social psychology in the Institute of Sociology at the University of Warsaw and the head of the Centre for Political Studies in the Institute for Social Studies. Her recent works focus on transformation processes in contemporary society. She has published many books on systemic transformation in Poland. Anna Giza-Poleszczuk is a sociologist, professor at the University of Warsaw. She has accompanied Polish transformation both as a scientist and practitioner. As a researcher, she was involved in many local and international projects, resulting in a few important books and publications. As a practitioner, she worked for an international company managing consumers’ insight department and advising to the Board, designing and evaluating many NGOs programs.


Title: Transformations of Social Bonds
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365 pages